Expanding your Tour Company to New Cities
Last Updated March 22, 2017
Growing your tour or event company can be a challenging step, but if done well, full of great opportunities. Our friends at Devour Tours have grown from a single tour in Madrid to tours across Spain country in 6 cities! James Blick and Lauren Aloise took the time to share with us their amazing story.
First of all, congrats on the latest expansion coming soon to the Devour Spain family – Devour Galicia and Devour Granada! With operations now in 6 cities across Spain, you seem to have become experts in the fine art of multi-city expansion, and I am so happy you were able to take some time to share your experience with our Global Partners.
Tell us – where did Devour Spain begin? Is this still home base?
JAMES: It feels like a long time ago that we began, but in reality it’s only 5 years ago! We started in Madrid, under a totally different name. We were called Madrid Food Tour to start, but then when we expanded to Barcelona a couple of years in, we realised we would need a new name that reflected the fact that our brand was expanding. Hence Devour Spain (we love the word ‘devour’ because you can devour something by eating it… but the word also reflects the fact that on our tours you also devour information, sites, culture etc.). And we’re actually just in the middle of another rebrand to Devour Tours. We realised it was important for us to have the word “tours” in our brand, so that it’s clear what we do.
Madrid remains the home base, and where our office is. We recently moved into a beautiful old building in one of my favourite neighbourhoods of Madrid. And this is where Lauren and I work from, as well as our marketing and customer service team.
At what point did you decide to make your first expansion? What inspired it?
LAUREN: After spending about two years learning how to design great tours in Madrid, we decided to expand to Barcelona. The main impulse was that in building our business in Madrid, we realised pretty early on that a huge part of offering a great tour was telling a great story about the city or neighbourhood. Spain is so regional, and each part of this country has unique stories to tell. So we became excited about expanding to different parts of the country and designing tours that told the local stories there. If you take a Devour Barcelona tour, you will have a very Barcelona experience (meaning different food and also you’ll learn about Catalan culture), while if you take a Devour Granada tour you’ll be immersed in the world of Andalusia and you’ll have an experience (both culturally and gastronomically) that reflects the very unique history of that part of Spain.
Now that we offer tours in six different Spanish cities, it’s very satisfying to think that we are able to tell a pretty complete story of Spain through our different tours. But this country has so much to offer!
What was the biggest obstacle you faced when you first decided to expand beyond the borders of your first city, and how did you overcome it?
JAMES: The biggest challenge was that it meant hiring our first full-time employee. In Madrid we were working with freelance guides to lead the tours (as well as leading tours ourselves), and we were running the operations for the city. But clearly we couldn’t do that in Barcelona, given we didn’t live there. So we had to hire someone – a role we decided to call the City Manager – who would guide the city’s initial tours and run operations there. Now we have a City Manager in each city in which we offer tours.
I also remember that when we approached the vendors we wanted to work with for our first tour in Barcelona, it was important to make sure they knew we were serious. In Madrid we had the benefit of living there, and that gave us credibility in the eyes of possible vendors – or at least gave them some security that we weren’t going to disappear one day to the next. So in Barcelona we had to be mindful that it was important for the vendors to know that we were professionals, and that, despite us being based in Madrid, we would be in constant contact with them.
Now that you are operating in 6 different cities, what is the biggest challenge as you continue to grow?
JAMES: As the team grows the biggest challenge is to make sure everyone understands what is happening in the company (new tours, new staff members, new procedures) and that systems are strong so that we can operate efficiently and grow smoothly. Despite the technical challenges of putting everyone together in one room, we make sure to do company-wide teleconference meetings on a regular basis, and also for the last two years we’ve brought key team members to Madrid for a summit. These meetings really do help people who are in different cities feel more connected, and it makes their communication more fluid and thus their collaboration more robust (which in turn makes the company stronger).
What was the inspiration behind choosing Galicia and Granada as your newest locations? What do you look for in a new city for Devour Spain to explore?
LAUREN: We had very different reasons for expanding to each destination– yet both are triggered by our own love for these parts of the country. Granada is a city that our current clients in Madrid, Barcelona, Seville and Malaga often have on their travel routes. It’s also the first place I lived in Spain back in 2007. I’ve always wanted to run tours in Granada, but it’s less connected to Madrid (there is no high-speed train) so it made sense to expand elsewhere first. I’m passionate about telling Granada’s food story as a major city in Al-Andalus (the medieval Muslim territory occupying modern day Spain and Portugal). It’s a big theme on our first tour!
Galicia is another incredible part of the country, and completely different to any other region we currently operate in. Think bright green hills, rainy days, and gorgeous white wines– not the flamenco, bullfights, sangria and sunshine that people often have in mind! It’s a region with a celtic past, its own language, and countless stories to tell. It’s also not on the typical tourist trail– this makes it more of a challenge for us to sell, but excites us to show off a lesser explored corner of this country. We hope to inspire people to visit this region more and more (there are awesome flight connections throughout Europe!).
With everything you have learned over the years, what would be your top three pieces of advice for anyone considering their first multi-city expansion?
LAUREN: 1. Make sure your first city is working seamlessly! Expanding is a ton of work, and it inevitably causes your efforts and energy to be focused outside of your first city (the one earning you money!). This means that you must have the first city’s operations running like clockwork, with an excellent team and systems in place to ensure quality does not slip.
2. Do your research! Just because a destination has great food, doesn’t mean it’s right for expansion. There are a lot of places we have considered for expansion over the years, but after studying tourism data we’ve realized that they don’t make sense for us at this point. Hopefully as we expand our offerings we will be able to incorporate more under the radar destinations, even if not as main cities.
3. Don’t rush things. It’s tempting to set a launch date and stick to it– no matter what. But for us, this is not a gold rush. We’ve pushed back deadlines countless times. It’s key to have the right people on the team, so hiring is something that takes time. We also ensure that we are doing things completely legally, and here in Spain each region is its own “autonomous community” with different laws about tourism. It can be daunting sometimes to get the right information, but for us it’s worth the wait.
Learn more about Devour Tours and the tours they offer at http://devourtours.com/
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